County Commissioners vote to boost homeless resources

2 years ago

CARIBOU, Maine — People experiencing homelessness in Aroostook County will now have more shelter from the cold.

The Aroostook County Commissioners unanimously approved $179,000 in American Rescue Plan Act funding for Homeless Services of Aroostook during a meeting in Caribou on Nov. 15.

Though most of fall was mild, colder weather is here, bringing with it concerns about how some people will stay warm. The funds for Homeless Services will not only boost staff, but will allow the purchase of 10 additional bedrolls for those who need a warm place to sleep and four new staff in the shelter. The plan dovetails with the Aroostook County Action Program’s Hope Prosperity Center if an overflow of more than 10 people happens at the warming shelter. 

“Luckily, we’ve had several weeks of rather mild temperatures, so sleeping outdoors or sleeping in tents has not been as much of a problem. The last three nights it’s getting a little scarier,” said Sue Powers, ACAP senior director of programs.

CARIBOU, Maine — November 15, 2022 — Aroostook County Commissioners, from left, Norman Fournier, Paul Underwood and Paul Adams hear proposals on with county administrator Ryan Pelletier (right) during their No. 15 meeting in Caribou. (Paul Bagnall | The Star-Herald)

Powers requested the funds on behalf of the Aroostook Homeless Stakeholders Task Force, which has met weekly over the last couple months to develop solutions to address the homeless crisis in The County.

The group has visited 30 sites across Aroostook that could possibly serve as additional sheltering spaces, but has been unable to find a space to meet zoning, fire safety and other occupancy requirements.  

Powers said at the end of the Emergency Rental Assistance program back on Oct. 31, there were 21 people who had nowhere to go, but most found families and friends to stay with, went to the Sister Mary O’Donnell Shelter, or left Aroostook County to find housing.

The task force opted to establish a temporary emergency warming center at the Presque Isle shelter, and to purchase bed rolls, Powers said.

Homeless Services will work collaboratively with ACAP’s Hope and Prosperity Resource Center to take on an overflow of residents if there isn’t enough room in the warming shelter at the Sister Mary O’Donnell Shelter.

ACAP wants to extend their business hours at the resource center from five days a week to seven days a week. The warming center will be open from November until April 1, 2023.

CARIBOU, Maine — November 15, 2022 — Sue Powers (right) representative for Aroostook County Action Program makes the proposal from the homeless task force to the County Commissioners at the Caribou Courthouse.  (Paul Bagnall | The Star-Herald)

In other business, Commissioners Norman Fournier, Paul Underwood and Paul Adams heard the third and final information session — first two were held in Fort Kent and Houlton — on a proposed change in the fiscal year. The proposal would change to a six-month general funds budget instead of the current 12-month interval. The earliest the new fiscal year budget would go into effect was 2024.

Commissioners approved temporary contractual support for Maine Prosecutors Association technology employees at the request of District Attorney Todd Collins. Aroostook County would manage the Maine Prosecutors contracts for District 8, which would avoid higher costs associated with independent contracting. The temporary arrangement will last until July 1, 2023. 

Armstrong Engineering won a bid of $42,930 for the heating and ventilation air conditioning systems on the first floor of the Superior Court building in Houlton.

The following new hires were approved: William Janakis, full-time patrol deputy with the Aroostook County Sheriff’s Office; James Jalbert, communications specialist for North Lakes Fire Department; Philip Grindle, part-time custodian for the Caribou Courthouse; and Lavina Lengele, full-time dispatcher for the Sheriff’s Office.

The session’s only public comment came from John Rasmussen, chairperson of the Patten Selectboard, who pushed for expansion at the Aroostook County Jail in Houlton

“Aroostook County must expand the capacity of our jail. Without an expansion we are hindering the sheriff’s department, the district attorney’s office and the court system,” Rasmussen said.

The meeting of the 2023 County Commissioners schedule was also approved.

The commissioners will meet next on Wednesday, Dec. 21, at 1 p.m. on the first floor conference room of the Registry of Deeds Building in Fort Kent.